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  • clivenmel

April 17th

Normal 0 false false false st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} Bank Holiday Monday, once we were ready we finally left Hungerford, heading west. The canal and the Great Western Railway and the M4 all accompany each other along the valley, and it�s not far along that Berkshire turns into Wiltshire. To the North is the old Savernake Forest (pron. Savernack), which is an ancient Royal Forest going back to the early Norman times and still retains some really old mixed woodland, which is nice to see.   There were lots of locks, quite widely spaced out, between Hungerford and our next destination, one of them was interesting as it had a swing bridge in the middle of it which had to be opened before the boat could go into it.  After this we slowly continued to climb up towards the Marlborough Downs.  The Downs seem to stretch forever, away to the right, and they accompanied us through some of the nicest stretches we have seen for a while; open farmland, pretty villages with lots of thatched cottages and surprisingly little traffic, boats as well as road traffic. We continued to climb; another 10 locks over not more than a mile and a half, finally put us at the summit section of the K&A Canal and very nice it is too. Here the views are very good, stretching out on both sides. There are the remains of a John Rennie designed skew-bridge up here that once carried the Midland & South Western Railway, which linked Southampton up to Cheltenham, but which has gone the way of many old lines. After a few hundred yards, we came to the Bruce Tunnel � only just over 500 yards, so no big deal. It was named after a Thomas Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury, through whose land the canal was cut. There�s a hire boat company close to here called the Bruce Trust, who cater specifically for either groups/parties or folks with special needs; they have a good selection of wide-beam craft, all painted their characteristic green, and we saw quite a few. One of them had a party of Dorset Girl Guides; looked like quite a troop but all learning how to handle the boat, tie it up, do the locks etc�great idea.   From here, as they say, it�s all downhill! The only mishap was at one of the summit locks, Mel nearly fell in! The lock gate balancing beam is quite high and a sort of steel �stirrup� is provided to help you get up to walk over to the other side. Mel�s knees, not being as strong or flexible as they should be gave way and she swung round, clutching the handrail, and ended up sitting down on the beam facing the other direction! Needless to say, she came out of it having bumped both knees and also wrenched her already sore shoulder, so will need to rest a bit before tackling anything too strenuous! (If she could steer the boat, I could do the locks! She�s having more lessons!!)   Our next mooring, Great Bedwyn, came along with lots of daylight left and a very pleasant evening it was. We moored up just to the south of the village and a very nice spot is was too , right next to a lovely thatched cottage on a little road called Frog Lane. It says that the name Bedwyn may derive from an Old English word, either Bedwind or Bedwine, both referring to a place where Clematis once grew in profusion � no sign of it now though. In fact, you get the sense that Bedwyn may have lost a lot of things in the past and has somehow got left behind � it�s the furthest the Great Western runs as a commuter to London, so it might be pushing it for modern day travellers.   We had such a nice day on Tuesday here that we decided to stay another day � gave Mel a chance to rest for the lock-work!   As we slipped past the old Burbage Wharf, which sits under the A338 to Andover, we passed some lovely open country with ancient Tumuli and scatterings of historic forests until finally we hit the first of the �downhill� locks. There are four initially but we decided to stop after 3 as we came across a lovely mooring at a village called Wootten Rivers. This has to be one of the most beautiful little villages we have yet come across � everywhere you look, you see fantastic, old thatched houses, some tiny cottages, others, huge and imposing, with extensions and gardens; absolutely delightful.  Unfortunately each was set in its own secluded garden and other than photographing each one individually you just couldn't get them all in a photograph!  The Royal Oak thatched pub is up in the village and we indulged in an excellent meal there � we were in the process of defrosting a chicken curry that Mel had made a few weeks ago, but the de-thawing process was a bit slow! So, we indulged; but what a place � weatherboard and thatch dating to the 16th century � just my sort of place (Wadhams 6X beer as well � excellent stuff!)   Thursday dawned surprisingly warm and muggy and there was a mist hanging over the village and along the canal. When we were ready to go, we moved a few yards under the bridge and filled up with water and tried the pump-out station; We had bought 2 bar-coded cards from the village post office, who act for BW, and put one in the pump-out machine. For some reason, it took just 3 points off the 25 it held and stopped! So, no pump-out and a useless card � a quick call to BW, who said go to Pewsey and the pub there, the Waterfront, will exchange it for you. So off we went only to find, when we got there, that they had run out of cards!   The landlord recommended that we push on to Gibson�s Wharf about an hour further on. He said "George Gibson will sort you out; lovely guy, a bit like you with a beard!"  He also told us that there was a BW station at Devizes who will exchange the partial card for a full one.  However, Mel reminded me that we had bought two cards, intending to keep one for a later date, so we tried the other one and it worked!  Once the pump-out was done we set off again and did stop at Gibson�s Wharf because their diesel was a very good price.  As the landlord had said George indeed was a lovely gentleman and his dog was nice too!  By now the day was just great; sunny and hot and we enjoyed the cruise very much.   On the right, we could see all along the Marlborough Downs, the highest point in Wiltshire, with delightful open country all round about. There is a lovely dome or mound-shaped hill called Picked Hill; from this perspective it looks almost artificial.   We had known for a while that we were travelling in the area known as the Vale of the White Horse and over to the right, cut into the white chalklands of the Downs, we could see the 1812 Alton Barnes white horse. It looked magnificent in the sunshine. As we approached a little place called Honey Street, we saw a few boats parked up at a pub and being lunchtime, we stopped for a quick one. The pub, The Barge, has a remarkable tap room, almost dedicated to Crop Circles and their followers. Photos of Crop Circles from the last few years filled the walls, with maps and charts and comments. This was amazing enough until you look up � the whole ceiling is painted with a fantastic design, incorporating Crop Circles, wildlife, Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle and lots of others.   I had remarked to Mel that we really aught to get a box or something to put on the roof to keep wood and other bits in to stop it looking so untidy. It was then that we saw a boat with two young, sort-of �new age� folks relaxing on top.  We realised then that actually we aren�t untidy at all! It is surprising how many old World War II defences survive here � the countryside is littered with �Pill Boxes�, demarking a defensive line that stretched all across the south downs; it was intended as a last ditch defensive line, manned by the Home Guard ( Dad�s Army guys!) Looking at the extent of what was prepared, I think they would have put up one hell of a fight if it had ever come to it!     However, besides the pill-boxes we also passed under a couple of bridges with what we assume are anti-tank defences, here is one of them: We have mentioned before that we have not seen much in the way of wild mammals, apart from the odd rabbit and a fox here and there.  We have seen a few dead badgers in the canal but no live ones and not a single water vole since the day we set off, which is very disappointing.  So you can imagine our delight when we caught the welcome sight of a mature Roe Deer buck just standing on the towpath a couple of hundred yards in front � just managed to get a couple of photos before he saw us and quickly disappeared into the shrubbery.   Before long we realised that we were approaching Devizes but didn�t want to arrive immediately as we would like a full 48 hours there, so we moored up near the village of Horton and no sooner had we done that, than it started to rain. So we are having a day or two here, out of the way and relaxing before Mel tackles the Laundry!   After Devizes, we have the mighty Caen Locks to deal with, these drop the canal down a dizzying 237ft in just over 2 miles � 29 locks all in one go! We are resting up before that lot!                                                          

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